Considering their geographical closeness and mutual appreciation of seemingly endless winters, it’s no surprise that similarities exist too in the folk music of Scotland and Norway. Northern Arc is a celebration of those bonds in the form of a series of genre-bending concerts over the course of 2015. Scottish musicians are linked with traditional artists from across the northernmost reaches of the globe, culminating in three session performances at Aberdeen’s grandiose Music Hall.
Tonight’s performance has a Scandinavian twang, and features Karen Matheson, lead singer of Capercaillie and bonafide folk icon. She skilfully opens the show accompanied by pianist Donald Shaw with two Gaelic numbers about leaving the Hebrides behind, before handing the stage over to Norway’s Erlend Viken Trio.
The trio are clinical in their delivery from the beginning of their set. Fiddler Erlend Viken, cellist Jonas Bleckman and guitarist Juhani Silvola present their own brand of traditional Scandinavian folk, with African and American influences. It’s an odd combination that strangely works, especially when Silvola reaches for the electric guitar and turns up the reverb. Viken’s own composition Blåbu is gut-wrenchingly gorgeous, written following a bad case of post-summer-festival depression. Conversely, Mino is incredibly heart-warming, displaying the pure technical brilliance the trio possess. Cellist Bleckman is so enthused by the end of the song that he’s standing alongside his bandmates, playing his instrument like a double bass. Their traditional Scandinavian folk tunes are a little more classical and polished than the foot-stomping, ale-laced bangers often performed in these parts, but the beauty of the trio’s approach lies in their innovative mashing of genres.
After the break Matheson returns to the stage with her band to perform a stirring rendition of Gleann Bhaile Chaoil, a song she learned at ceilidhs as a child, and was unable to sing for so many years. It’s a pleasure to watch Donald Shaw switch effortlessly (sometimes mid-song) between piano, pedal harmonium and accordion, as the set spans Scotland and Ireland.
It feels like the collaboration should have begun after the break, because by the time the Erlend Viken Trio join Matheson and co on stage, there’s only half an hour of the performance left. Nevertheless the session begins with Matheson introducing the Norwegians to a Gaelic waulking song, once sung by wifeys in the isles as they beat sodden tweed. Bleckman’s sliding cello is offset nicely against Matheson’s exemplary tone, while showing off her technical proficiency in Gaelic as the tune speeds up. These simple beat-driven songs are crowd pleasers, and this audience certainly loves it. However, like much of the evening’s performances, the energy raised during the more upbeat numbers is lost by the continual anchoring back to more sombre ones. At times the collaboration also feels a little one-sided, as the trio play alongside songs from Matheson’s back catalogue.
It wouldn’t be a celebration of Scottish music without the bard. Apparently Rabbie was a terrible singer, yet his words lend themselves flawlessly to song. Lassie Wi The Lint White Locks makes an appearance, and the night ends with a Nordic inspired encore of the forever-beautiful Ae Fond Kiss.
Lau with Valkyrien Allstars will play the final Northern Arc performance at the Music Hall on Sat 27 June @ 7.30pm.